Bolts on the Blue Line
Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were one goal away from visiting the Stanley Cup Finals for the 2nd time in franchise history. Two years later, the Tampa Bay Lightning are picking 3rd overall in the 2013 draft. They have fallen from the good graces of the “Hockey Gods”… fast.
During the 2011-2012 season, the Bolts were plagued with poor goalie performance. Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman addressed this after the season in acquiring Anders Lindback from the Nashville Predators, and eventually further addressed it with the acquisition of Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators. However, goaltending was not the real issue in Tampa during this year’s 2012-2013 season. Defense became the focal point. Yzerman tried to address the defense before the issue arose; he had added 2 stellar defensemen in Sammi Salo and Matt Carle. Salo played extremely well and had 2 goals, 15 assists, and held a +/- of plus 5. Matt Carle also played well, but fails to get the credit he deserves. Carle had 5 goals and 17 assists, and had a +/- of plus 1. Regardless of the additions, the defense was terrible. Mounds of turnovers and rebounds allowed for 147 goals against the Bolts.
As the offseason approaches, the Lightning are going to need to add to the blue-line. However, the bolts are near the salary cap and don’t have much to work with. Much of their blue-line is also already filled. Hedman, Salo, Carle, Brewer, and Gudas are all more than likely going to be on the team next year and likely to be constants. That leaves one spot to fill for the top six and maybe one more as reserve to round out the opening day roster. Here’s a list of the options:
Building from within:
Keith Aulie – Aulie spent the year with the Lightning. He played relatively well at times and if he’s with the team next year, we could see improvement. This year, Aulie was disadvantaged by a lack of a training camp. With a new Coach, a new system, and a training camp, Aulie may be the 6th man on the roster. He would, however, need to be signed. He is currently looking to be a RFA.
Mark Barberio – With the Syracuse Crunch this year, Barberio had 8 goals and 34 assists for a total of 42 points. He’s a tremendously skilled offensive defenseman. However, the Bolts need another rugged threat in their back end. He played 2 games with the Bolts this year and was a +/- of -2. While he is chomping at the bits to get to the big club, he may not be on the opening day roster. If he does make it, he’ll be the reserve.
Andrej Sustr – He was a skilled threat in college and has fantastic size to go with it (think Chara) but he needs more development. He played in Europe for a while, but North American pro-hockey he has not quite yet grasped. Give him a year or two, and he should be good to go.
Andrew Ference – While the Boston Bruins are still in the playoffs, Andrew Ference is heading towards free agency. The Bruins could still resign him, but if he hits the market, the Bolts need to take a look at him. While not an offensive threat, he is what they need. He plays well in his own end, is strong in front of his own net, and experienced. He averaged over 19 minutes of ice time this year and had a +/- of plus 9. He’s a more expensive option, but would definitely help the Lightning if they could land him. If Ference hits the open market, he is definitely worth a look from Yzerman.
Grant Clitsome – This guy really intrigues me. Clitsome is 5’11” and 215 pounds and he played really well in Winnipeg with the Jets this season. He had 4 goals and 12 assists and had a +/- of plus 10. His plus 10 was higher than every member of the Lightning this season. Clitsome delivered 82 hits this past season and blocked over 50 shots. There’s a lot to like in this guy, and if he doesn’t resign in Winnipeg, he’s another viable (and cheaper) option for Tampa Bay.